“Can I ask you something?” Williams offered his hand as a guide as Kaemi carefully managed her way over a fallen tree. If he thought he felt guilty before for tranqing her in the neck, knowing she was pregnant now meant there was no way he could leave her side.
“Of course.” Kaemi took Williams’ hand and slid one leg over the musty trunk, straddling it.
“Alright, cool.” Williams hesitated as he tried to think of the best way to phrase things. “So what, like, is it, exactly, that you guys, you Diggers or whatever, actually do? Are you like tunnelers or something?”
Kaemi smiled tightly as she swung her other leg over. Moving was beginning to wear on her. “You haven’t heard of Digger News? You never got dirt?”
“News? Nah… is that what you do?”
“Yes,” Kaemi laughed softly, “we ‘do’ the news. Or, as we like to say, we 'dig it up.' You know, before you were born, it wasn’t just the Herald who did the news. Everyone could do it.”
Williams laughed. “You sound like mi abuelo. That fool is always goin on about what life is probably like on the Outside, how before the Divide, all the information was just out there and anybody could get it. 'Bet they swat it away like flies,' that's what he always says."
“Bet they do,” came a familiar voice.
Williams’ chuckle caught in his throat as he turned to see Sandy trailing a few steps behind them. He felt his back straighten a little.
“If you read Digger News,” Sandy went on, “which is the most fucking awesome news source on the planet, by the way, you’d know. It did used to be different – it wasn’t just “journalists” or “important people with opinions” who were the ones that could “do it.” It was everyone’s job to do the news, find out the truth." In a few quick steps she caught up with them, and their elbows jostled side by side. "And then it was like there was too much information, and everyone got overwhelmed, and people got dumber, and nobody knew what a fact was if it hit them in the fucking face. They just started believing anything." She looked at him. "So now there are people like the Diggers risking their lives just to get it – the real dirt – and to get it out, and that's what me and Barb joined for. Because 'the truth is worth it.' Right Kaemi? You should tell him, you’re the Digger.” It pricked like a burr coming out, but she didn't mean it that way. Or maybe she did. All she knew was that her fabled Diggers didn’t actually know shit. Her best friend was hundreds of miles away, and these guys didn’t know shit about whether she was okay. They could hardly take care of themselves.
“Yes,” Kaemi responded, without any hint of offense taken in her voice. “The truth is worth it.”
“So you’re a Digger then too? Like an honorary one?” Williams tried to ignore the pounding rush of blood in his head as he talked to her. He was full of nerves. Everything he said to her made him feel like an idiot. But they were out in the woods, surrounded by fresh air… there were worst ways to meet a girl. He just had to keep breathing, and put one boot in front of the other. For a few quiet moments as the three of them picked their way over twisted roots and loosened pebbles, it almost felt like any other hike.
“Nah," Sandy replied. "I’m not a Digger. I mean.... maybe someday. But Barb – my best friend I told you about – Barb and me just had to get the fuck outta dodge. I mean, you're from there, you know what I mean. It was so bad. I couldn't do it anymore. So when we got the scoop on the collapse cause of Barb’s brother workin there, it felt like we had to, you know? Go. So we did. I wasn't scared if we would make it. Cause we had each other, you know. That girly shit.” She let her voice trail off as she realized that Connor was dead now, and Barb was gone, and that she didn’t really know this guy she was talking to. “Once we had the scoop, we thought if we could just get it to the Diggers they could really do something with it, something big, you know? And like expose the Herald for what they really are. Lying jackasses." She met his eyes. "I had to beg Barb though. No seriously. She can be such a chicken-shit sometimes.”
Williams laughed. “Aw come on. That ain't easy to just up and leave where you're from. It's dangerous out here." He tugged on the shoulder strap of his rifle. "So if she's the chickenshit, what does that make you then? Just all brave all the time?” He looked at her with a teasing glint in his eye. So cute.
“Umm yeahhh… maybe not I-will-shoot-you-in-the-neck-on-accident level brave, but not too bad for a chick from the bad part,” she teased back.
"Hey, ouch," Williams replied.
"Ouch for me," Kaemi added.
Sandy grinned, but noticed that his eyes had faded off, like something had just occurred to him. "What's wrong?"
He broke out of his trance. "What? No, nothing. I was just thinking… so you ain’t from Portsby either, huh?” He laughed it off half-heartedly, but she knew the disappointment he was feeling was real.
Was that all it meant to be a Pure then? To spend your whole life dreaming – hoping – for the possibility of another, better place to escape to? Only to find out time and time again that it could never be true? Portsby had been a dream for her too.
She bit her lip. “Nah.” Then, “Kinda sucked right? Definitely no trees in rows.”
Williams laughed. “Nope. Not a one.”